Dining With Dinosaurs

I’ve always had high praise for the work of Hannah Bonner. Her “When” trilogy, now compiled into the single volume When Fish Got Feet, Bugs Were Big, and Dinos Dawned, sits at the top of my list of favorite children’s books on prehistory. Her attention to detail & her cartoon illustrations combine to make her books among the most comprehensive and yet approachable paleontology series out there, save perhaps for Abby Howard’s “Earth Before Us” series, which adopts a similar approach to Bonner’s. Here we’ll take a look at Bonner’s first prehistory book outside of the “When” series, Dining With Dinosaurs: A Tasty Guide to Mesozoic Munching.

I see you, internet. Don’t you dare.

Guided throughout by Hannah Bonner herself and her Microraptor buddy, Dining With Dinosaurs introduces readers to the various roles that different creatures adopt in order to feed themselves, and then looks at what we know about those roles in prehistoric ecosystems. Bonner’s trademark attention to detail is on full display here, as we examine carnivores, herbivores, omnivores, insectivores, piscivores, “sunivores” (autotrophs), & “trashivores” (detritivores). We don’t just focus on the “crowd-pleasers”, either, as all levels of the ecosystem get their starring moment, from plants, to dinosaurs, and to bacteria. We even get to see different non-dinosaur creatures that plagued the seemingly-invincible dinosaurs themselves, from Sanajeh the sauropodlet-eating snake to Sue‘s painful-looking jaw infection.

I like the “Who Ate/Eats Who?” on pages 4-5 and 34-35, as it emphasizes how our knowledge of the present enables us draw certain conclusions about the past.

We also get plenty of Bonner’s characteristic blend of straightforward cartoons with more “serious” artwork as the situation demands, which allows Bonner to easily adapt to whatever means she finds most effective in quickly communicating a certain concept in an immediately understandable way.

I like this x-ray view of a Diplodocus digestive system. It reminds me of a similar image in the classic Magic School Bus dinosaur book, though rendered here in better detail.

While Bonner more than adequately explains the various concepts in her own words, she even includes several mini-interviews with actual scientists in several comic strips throughout the book, letting readers in on the process of we figured out all this information, and emphasizing that this isn’t just stuff that was whipped up off the top of somebody’s head. Featured scientists include Paul Barret on pages 9 & 11, Nizar Ibrahim on page 15, Carole Gee page 23, and Conrad Labandeira page 29. Readers may remember Karen Chin from my review of Daring to Dig, who discusses her work with fossilized feces on both pages 7 and 33, the latter of which directly discusses the specific research featured in Daring to Dig.

Speaking of coprolites, I really like that Bonner spent an entire double page spread examining a dunghill community in detail. Such a focus really makes one appreciate how important an ignominious subject like this really is, particularly for its role in the health of an ecosystem.

The book includes a couple of appendices, though not as involved as the ones in When Fish Got Feet, Bugs Were Big, and Dinos Dawned. I do like the visualization of food webs as a “layer cake” of trophic levels. The thickness of each layer roughly corresponds to the overall biomass in a given ecosystem that each level represents, which helps readers visualize how much of a given type of creature is needed to support the creatures in the other levels.

It should come as no surprise that I give Dining With Dinosaurs my Dino Dad Stomp of Approval. Hannah Bonner never disappoints, and I pretty much assume I’m going to love whatever she puts out next. Dining With Dinosaurs is a fantastic supplement to any lessons on either dinosaurs or food chains, and is sure to capture the attention of readers whether they are hard-core dinosaur nerds or not!


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